A man who lives in Puerto Rico has been charged in Miami federal court with selling and attempting to sell federally protected migratory birds, some of which might have been captured in South Florida.
Christopher Omar Muñiz Muñoz of Aguada, Puerto Rico, was picked up Jan. 10 and arraigned Feb. 9 on charges related to violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and for not possessing a valid federal license to trade in migratory birds.
Muñiz Muñoz has pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting trial. His attorney could not be located for comment.
Court records indicate that though Muñiz Muñoz was arrested, he remained in Puerto Rico where he was allowed to respond to the indictment at his lawyer’s office.
The case began in 2012 when agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Miami became aware of online ads on eBay for the sale of several bird species listed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
These included Puerto Rican bullfinch, scaly-naped pigeon, white crowned pigeon, red-legged thrush and Key West dove, according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami federal court by a USFWS special agent. The birds were offered for sale at prices totaling $12,950, according to the complaint.
USFWS officials assigned undercover agents to track the case. They eventually located Muñiz Muñoz as the suspect.
One of the undercover agents contacted Muñiz Muñoz in Aguada and obtained more information on his alleged operations.
“Muñiz indicated that he had three aviaries where he stored the birds for sale, (a) one located at his father’s residence, (b) a second aviary located at his residence, and (c) a third aviary located at his father-in-law’s residence,” the complaint said.
On Oct. 20, 2016, the investigation deepened when officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission discovered three boxes labeled “Live Birds” at a post office in Homestead.
“The boxes were being shipped from Homestead … to ‘Omar Muñoz,’ later identified as Muñiz,” the complaint said. “The first box [contained] what appeared to be approximately six gray catbirds; in the second box what appeared to be approximately 12 buntings; and in the third box, what appeared to be approximately six northern cardinals.”
According to the complaint, all three bird species in the boxes are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.